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Most problems are not solved automatically by the first idea that comes to mind. To get to the best solution it is important to consider many possible solutions. One of the best ways to do this is called brainstorming. Brainstorming is the act of defining a problem or idea and coming up anything related to the topic - no matter how remote a suggestion may sound. All of these ideas are recorded and evaluated only after the brainstorming is completed.
A Basic Procedure
1. In a small or large group select a leader and a recorder (they may be the same person).
2. Define the problem or idea to be brainstormed. Make sure everyone is clear on the topic being explored.
3. Set up the rules for the session. They should include
4. Start the brainstorming. Have the leader select members of the group to share their answers. The recorder should write down all responses, if possible so everyone can see them. Make sure not to evaluate or criticize any answers until done brainstorming.
5. Once you have finished brainstorming, go through the results and begin
evaluating the responses. Some initial qualities to look for when examining
Brainstorming - Thinking up a storm
Brainstorming is a technique for generating a large number of creative ideas with a group or team of people. It was devised in the 1930s by Alex F Osborn, the head of an advertising agency in New York, and is based on the premise that ordinary discussions will not produce many creative ideas because we habitually place constraints and injunctions on our thinking for fear of how others will judge us.
Brainstorming involves creating an atmosphere in which people feel uninhibited and free to propose the sort of wild and improbable solutions to problems that often point to the best course of action. The technique requires some practice and skill to use effectively but is not difficult if the guidelines are followed.
Attack intractable problems
Use brainstorming whenever you have a problem which is proving particularly intractable and needs some fairly intense assessment, or `lateral thinking', to address.
How to Brainstorm
You are the leader of a group or team of people and you have a problem that needs to solved. To use brainstorming to address this problem, follow the steps below.
* If you are not already in a meeting in which the problem has arisen,
make arrangements for a meeting to take place.
* If you are getting together a group which is not already formed, try to involve all those people who have a vested interest in solving the problem, and those who have specialised knowledge and are willing to participate.
* You will need to have the following equipment on hand; one or two flipcharts and a good stock of paper for them; plenty of marking pens to write on the flipcharts (you will be the only one writing, but a good stock of pens will avoid interruptions if pens run dry); a good supply of sticky tape to attach the sheets of paper around the walls.; and a whiteboard will be useful but is not absolutely necessary.
* Try to get a meeting room which is sufficiently large for people to feel comfortable in, and make the seating arrangements as informal as possible (a horseshoe shaped arrangement of desks with the flipcharts facing the open end of the U is usually best).
* Ensure that there will be no interruptions. Nothing spoils the free flow of ideas more quickly than a telephone call or someone being called out of the room.
* As the leader of the brainstorming session, you will take the group through four distinct stages.
These stages are:
1. tating the problem
2. Restating the problem
3. Brainstorming on one or more of the restatements
4. Evaluating the ideas produced
* If the group members have not used the technique before then you will need to take them through a preliminary stage to explain the technique and set the scene.
* State the problem to the group (without writing it on a flipchart or whiteboard).
* Ask for suggestions as to how the problem may be restated and write these up in front of the group (each restatement should be prefaced by the words "How to .."). By participating in restating the problem in different words a number of times, the group will begin to see different perspectives on the problem. Without this step, it is likely these perspectives would be overlooked.
* Choose one or more of the restatements to brainstorm on. You may want to use a tool such as multivoting for this.
* Begin the main part of the exercise - the brainstorming itself. This calls for a free flow of ideas aimed at producing as many as possible. Wild ideas are encouraged and the atmosphere should be light hearted and enjoyable.
* To encourage this there are four rules to be enforced (explain these beforehand to groups new to the technique, and reiterate them briefly to experienced groups).
(1) SUSPEND JUDGEMENT: there should be no criticism of other people's ideas the key is to laugh with and not at the ideas of other people.
(2) FREEWHEEL: encourage participants to dream or to drift, and to be prepared to produce wild or silly ideas. No idea should be discouraged however off-beat.
(3) QUANTITY: look for a large volume of ideas -100 ideas in 20 minutes is not uncommon.
(4) CROSS-FERTILISE: encourage an idea from one member of the group to be developed by other group members.
* Start the ideas flowing by writing up a couple yourself if necessary.
* Write everyone's ideas up in front of the group so that they can be seen, and number them.
* Don't be discouraged if the ideas dry up and group members become frustrated, this usually presages a renewed bout of ideas and only requires a pause for everyone to reflect before getting going again.
* When sufficient ideas have been generated stop and take a breather before going on to the evaluation stage.
* The evaluation stage brings in critical judgement as opposed to the freewheeling atmosphere of the `ideas generation' stage.
* Develop the final list by a process of elimination - that is, by weeding out the least promising ideas progressively. Again, multivoting may be useful here.
* Use the whiteboard to collect, write up and refine a final list of ideas which the group sees as most likely to solve the problem.
Brainstorming can be an effective way to generate lots of ideas and then determine which idea(s) best solves the problem. Brainstorming is most effective with larger groups of people and should be performed in a relaxed environment. If participants feel free to be silly, they'll stretch their minds more and therefore produce more creative ideas.
In order to brainstorm, you will need either a chalkboard, white-board or software tool). The brainstorm session organiser should focus on writing ideas on the board.
Brainstorming works best when you have a larger group of varied people. If you are a division in a company, invite people from other divisions to participate. Try to get as varied a group as possible to participate - this will result in the widest and most creative range of ideas.
Step by Step
Define your problem (please note that the word "problem" is not necessarily negative - your problem could be "We need a new product for the Christmas season" or "How can we effectively use our departmental budget surplus for this year?"). Write out your problem concisely and make sure that everyone understands the problem and is in agreement with the way it is worded. There is no need to put a lot of restrictions on your problem at this time.
Give yourselves a time limit - we recommend around 25 minutes, but experience will show how much time is required. Larger groups may need more time to get everyone's ideas out.
Everyone must shout out solutions to the problem while one person writes them out or enters them into BrainStormer. There must be ABSOLUTELY NO CRITICIZING OF IDEAS. No matter how daft, how impossible or how silly an idea is, it must be written down. Laughing is to be encouraged. Criticism is not. Why? Because you want to encourage the free flow of ideas and as soon as participants of the brainstorming session begin to fear criticism of their ideas, they'll stop generating ideas. Moreover, Ideas that first seem silly may prove to be very good or may lead to ideas that are very good.
Once your time is up, select the five ideas which you like best. Make sure everyone involved in the brainstorming session is in agreement.
Write down about five criteria for judging which ideas best solve your problem. Criteria should start with the word "should", for example, "it should be cost effective", "it should be legal", "it should be possible to finish before July 15", etc.
Give each idea a score of 0 to 5 points depending on how well it meets each criterion. Once all of the ideas have been scored for each criterion, add up the scores.
The idea with the highest score will best solve your problem. But you should keep a record of all of your best ideas and their scores in case your best idea turns out not to be workable.
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